Torah-study conventionally begins with knowing the text itself.
To this end, the division into parshahs/sidrahs is useful. It allows us to read Torah in some kind of sequence, rather than choosing random sections. It means that we have to read the parts that might be less interesting or attractive to us along with those we might prefer.
The further division into a “triennial” format, used by some congregations, follows the same sequence of parshahs, but specifies smaller subsections to read each year (the full parshah being completed every 3 years). This, too, can facilitate learning.
I also laud the change-over to the use of modern English in contemporary editions of the chumash. It’s far more suited for learning purposes than “King James” English — as beautiful and poetic as that can be.
Best of all, of course, is to read the text with the ability to refer to the Hebrew for the original meaning. No translation catches it perfectly.
Personally, I’ve rarely read an entire parshah outside of synagogue. Usually, I begin the reading and find myself focusing on some sentence or theme within it. In the days before computers, I even kept notebooks of quotations that I associated with each section I was reading.
Beyond knowing the text itself, we can study commentary and/or midrash. I often hear rabbis and teachers quoting “midrash,” but there’s a lot of very important and interesting material in the contemporary commentaries, too. Rabbi Hertz’s commentary, which I’ve extolled elsewhere, was meant to bridge traditional thinking and modern themes or challenges. Although it has since been supplanted in general synagogue use by the Art Scroll (Orthodox) editions, Etz Hayim (Conservative) and Plaut’s “Torah: A Modern Commentary” (Reform), its influence is unmistakeable.
Before or after studying a contemporary commentary, one might study midrash. This is a never-ending process, given the vastness of midrashic literature and the themes addressed in it. Even “The Zohar” — the great medieval text of Kabbalah — is written in the form of a midrash (or series of midrashim).
Yet, we must be very careful not to reduce Torah-study to a merely intellectual pursuit. Intellect is a tool in learning, yes. But if we haven’t been personally moved and inspired, we haven’t really achieved Torah’s purpose.
Torah-study is the re-enactment — the re-experience — of the revelation at Mt. Sinai. Each time we learn Torah, we, like Mosheh, stand before God and receive Holy Words.
Whatever degree of intellectual practice we bring to the activity, we best find Torah’s meaning by asking: “What is God saying to me, personally, right now, through this reading?”
Midrash and commentary can clarify or expand the meaning of a verse for us. But in the end — we must relate to it personally.
This is “intuitive understanding.”
Understand Torah with your heart.
Let God speak to you.